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W. Basketball: Nnemkadi Ogwumike selected No. 1 in WNBA draft

The LA Sparks selected senior forward Nnemkadi Ogwumike, the face of Stanford women’s basketball, as the No. 1 pick in Monday’s 2012 WNBA draft.

Ogwumike becomes the first Cardinal player to be taken first overall in school history and the 10th to be picked in the first round. Five of those first round picks are active WNBA players, including three of her former teammates: forward Jayne Appel ’10 (San Antonio Silver Stars), forward Kayla Pedersen ’11 (Tulsa Shock) and guard Jeanette Pohlen ’11 (Indiana Fever). The other two are guard Candice Wiggins ’08 (Minnesota Lynx) and forward Nicole Powell ’04 (New York Liberty).

Ogwumike had a stellar career at Stanford, joining the exclusive 2,000-point and 1,000-rebound club, but perhaps stands out most for her senior season. Ogwumike set the single-season scoring record with 809 points and placed second behind Wiggins on the career-scoring list with 2,491 points. She also was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year, the second time she won the conference’s top honor, and was selected to the All-America teams of the WBCA Coaches, Associated Press, USBWA and John R. Wooden Award. She also took home the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award.

“I think I realized that, as the competition and the challenges in basketball in college got harder, I needed to do more, and I had a lot to learn from,” Ogwumike said. “I learned from Kayla, Jayne and even Candice. I didn’t get to play with her, but every year my coaches and my teammates have really helped me make myself a better player.”

Barely a month after the disappointment of losing to Baylor at the NCAA Final Four in Denver, Ogwumike may soon be back in action, as the Sparks are due to take on the Chinese and Japanese national teams in preseason games in early May before launching the 2012 season on the road against the Seattle Storm on May 13.

With star forward Candace Parker sidelined for much of the season, the Sparks finished second to last in the Western Conference last year and did not qualify for the playoffs. Although head coach Carol Ross will be starting her first year at the helm, the team, with two stars in Parker and Ogwumike, will be expected to perform.

“I know for one that coach Carol Ross is an amazing coach,” Ogwumike said of her new team. “I’ve heard so many good things about her. Obviously you have Candace [Parker], Ebony Hoffman and so many other people on that team, and I just want to come in and contribute. I’m not looking to do too much; I’m just looking to do me.”

Back on the Farm, Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer must now plan for a future without this season’s star player. Ogwumike won four straight Pac-12 conference and tournament titles, went to four straight NCAA Final Fours, never lost at Maples Pavilion and dropped just a single game to Pac-12 opponents, a contest against Cal in January of 2009.

With the standard set by recent Stanford classes, there will be some big shoes to fill by returning and incoming players. One of those players, Nneka’s younger sister Chiney Ogwumike, will be counted on to handle the scoring and rebounding load after averaging 15.0 points and 11.2 boards in her sophomore season. Fortunately for the Cardinal, Pac-12 opponents will still have to contend with at least half of the sister act.